Kenzie Academy is scaling up a coding program for ‘the heartland’

Co-founder/CEO Chok Ooi wishes to bring more tech tasks to the midwest

The crowded landscape of programs teaching non-technical individuals to end up being software designers has actually been a proving ground for a new model of education financing: earnings share contracts (ISAs). With an ISA, trainees avoid paying tuition in advance or taking out personal loans, rather paying a percentage of their earnings for a time after graduation after they’re making a minimum income.

The design aligns education service providers with students’ career outcomes, and one startup is staking a claim to be the leader in the area; Kenzie Academy, a year-long program with a physical campus in Indianapolis– and a student body that’s 66 percent online– announced a collaboration with Neighborhood Investment Management (CIM) earlier today that offers $100 million in debt to cover the operating expense associated with trainees who defer payment through ISAs.

Kenzie co-founder and CEO Chok Ooi says that core to Kenzie’s mission is the objective that its graduates “can stay in the heartland and bring in more jobs so that somebody coming out of the Midwest no longer has to relocate to Silicon Valley or New York City to have an effective profession in tech.” This $100 million is one of the largest commitments yet to financing ISAs and Kenzie is utilizing it to recruit a more varied population of trainees who might not have the ability to pay for tuition or qualify for trainee loans otherwise.

I interviewed Ooi to comprehend how Kenzie differentiates itself from rivals, how it has iterated its design to improve retention and task placement and how he expects the ISA market to evolve over the next couple years. Here’s the records of our conversation, modified for length and clearness:

Eric Peckham: The landscape of software designer training programs is crowded. Where did you see an opportunity to do something different, and how do you place Kenzie relative to others in the market?

Chok Ooi: My co-founder originated from Galvanize, so we observed firsthand the expansion of tech and coding bootcamp. These are usually short-term, three-to-five month programs and they tend to do well serving people with college degrees. I would say that they are interrupting the masters’ program space. We saw a major space in programs that serve a much bigger demographic of individuals who are much previously in their advancement. People who never went to college, or did a bit of college and left, or simply never ever had an expert work experience. A three-month training is inadequate to get them to a point where they could land a technical task and succeed.

We saw a chance to bring premium tech education to the American heartland that is 12 months in length. For about two-thirds of our trainees, this is their first post-secondary credential training.

We are giving them not just the technical skills, however elements from a conventional four-year college also, like critical thinking, problem-solving and interaction skills.

Compared to those other bootcamps or training programs, is Kenzie targeting different task outcomes for its graduates?

We did a study of our trainees that asked them to call the leading five tech business they preferred to work for. None of the Silicon Valley companies made the list other than Salesforce. Indianapolis is the second largest Salesforce office beyond San Francisco. The remainder of the business our trainees named were companies like DMI and Zylo that individuals in Silicon Valley don’t find out about however are doing very well in the Midwest. Their good friends work there. They’re a material of the neighborhood. If we actually want to develop job opportunities for the rest of America, we can not adopt the Silicon Valley mindset.

Kenzie Academy co-Founder and CEO Chok Ooi.

Kenzie Academy co-founder and CEO Chok Ooi.

So how do you evaluate technical aptitude and critical thinking in the admissions process?

Prior to founding Kenzie, I began a company nine years ago called AglityIO. The model for AgilityIO was similar to business like Andela. We were attempting to solve the skill crunch in the Bay Area by recruiting and training people with the raw talent in Vietnam. Today, that company works with Google, Uber, NerdWallet, and 150 other tech companies. So I have actually experience in developing processes to identify raw skill in this context.

As people are doing the online assessments, we collect information points of how long it considers them to fix the problem, what their different choice points are and things like that. Then as they get enrolled in Kenzie, we continue to gather participation information, grades, and then placement information and use that to take a look at success and failure cases. We continuously improve our assessment.

Are you seeing any specific pattern or cluster in the applications you’re getting or the prospects you’re accepting in regards to prior field of employment or aspect of their background?

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